How to Protect Your Security Deposit

Many landlords in Georgia will ask for a security deposit before the tenant moves into the property. The security deposit is money paid by the tenant and held by the landlord to protect against the tenant not paying rent or damaging the property. When the tenant moves out, unless they owe back rent or damaged the property, the security deposit should be returned to the tenant.

A security deposit is any money paid by the tenant to the landlord that is returnable, no matter what the landlord calls it. So things like a “pet deposit,” a “damage deposit” or “rent deposit” are security deposits, even if they are not called that. The only way around this rule is if the landlord explicitly states (for example, in the lease) that the fee or deposit is nonrefundable. If you want to read the law you can find it here. Click on Title 44, Chapter 7, Article 2.

The landlord can make the deposit for any amount he wants too. Usually security deposits in Georgia are one month’s rent. This number is negotiable, so if the landlord is charging you an amount that you think is too high you could ask to have it reduced. If you want to get your security deposit amount reduced tell the landlord that you have a good rental history and a good credit report, and be willing to provide the name and phone number for old landlords who will vouch for this. 

Your security deposit can be used to pay for any debt you owe the landlord. This includes:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Unpaid utilities like water or power
  • Damage to the apartment
  • Unpaid fees, like late fees
  • If you broke your lease, broken lease fees

Some security deposits are limited to what they can be used for though. If you paid your last months rent in advance that is a security deposit, but it can only be used to pay rent. Similarly, if the landlord makes you pay a “damage deposit” then it can only be used to pay damages. But most landlords just call it a security deposit and do not place any restrictions on what it can be used for.

Things to Know Before you Pay a Security Deposit

Before you pay a security deposit to your landlord you should check a few things:

  • Check that the amount of security deposit written in the lease is the same as the amount you discussed with the landlord.
  • Make sure you have inspected the exact apartment or house you will be staying in before you pay the deposit.
  • If the landlord has promised to make repairs before you move in do not pay the deposit until the repairs are made and seen by you. 

Some landlords will play the old bait and switch, showing you a clean, well maintained apartment when they get you to sign the paperwork and then giving you the keys to a different, worse apartment come move in day. Hold your deposit until you see the apartment and get they keys to prevent the landlord from tricking you. 

The way you pay your security deposit matters. When you pay your deposit:

  • Seperate the security deposit payment from the rent and other move in fees. If you are paying $900 in first month’s rent and a $500 security deposit give the landlord two checks, one for $900 and one for $500.
  • Write “Security Deposit” on the check you are using to pay the security deposit so there is no question about what the money was for. 
  • If you pay electronically or with a card still make the security deposit its own payment.
  • If you have to pay in cash get a receipt signed by the landlord acknowledging the amount paid and that it was a security deposit. 

Doing a little leg work before you pay your security deposit will help ensure that you are able to get your deposit back. If your landlord doesn’t return the deposit to you read on to our next post about what to do if your deposit is not returned.